Installing a Metal 3D Printer: Part 1 (Equipment)

concept-laser-mlab
Fig 1. Concept Laser MLab Cusing R in PADT’s Metal 3D Printing Lab

Download all 5 parts of this series as a single PDF here.

What equipment does one need for metal 3D printing? 

This is the first in a five-part series that brings together the different lessons we learned installing our first metal printer, a Concept Laser MLab Cusing R at PADT, shown in Figure 1. In this post I list the different equipment needed to enable metal 3D printing end-to-end, along with a brief explanation of its purpose. In subsequent posts, I deal with (2) Facilities, (3) Safety, (4) Environmental & (5) Housekeeping aspects of the technology. I hope this information adds to the conversation in a meaningful way and help those who are thinking about, or in the process of installing a metal 3D printer.

The specifics of some of this information will vary depending on the equipment and materials you handle, but my hope is the themes covered here give you a sense of what is involved in installing a metal 3D printer to aid in your preparation for doing the same and for having good discussions with your equipment supplier to ensure these are addressed at a minimum.

One way to look at classifying the equipment needed (beyond the obvious metal 3D printer!) is by its purpose, and I do so here by dividing it into two broad categories: Ancillary Equipment (necessary to the printing itself) and Post-Processing Equipment (focused on the part).

At the outset, it is crucial that the difference between reactive and non-reactive metal alloys be comprehended since a lot of the use of the equipment differs depending on what kind of metal alloy is being used. A previous blog post addressed these differences and these terms will be used in the following sections.

1. Ancillary Equipment

1.1 Wet Separator

wet-separator-ruwac
Fig 2. Wet separator used to vacuum fugitive powder

The wet separator is essentially a vacuum cleaner that is designed to safely vacuum stray (“fugitive”) metal powders that cannot be cleaned up any other way. When dealing with powders, the typical recommendation is to first brush whatever you can into the overflow bin so you can reuse it. The next step is to try and wipe up powder with a moist lint-free cloth (to be covered in the housekeeping post). The wet separator has a water column that passivates the metal powder and renders it non-reactive to allow for easier disposal (to be covered in the environmental post). Wet separators require a significant amount of maintenance, particularly when dealing with reactive metals like Titanium and Aluminum alloys, where the supplier recommends the wet separator be cleaned out on a daily basis. At least one company has developed a kit to help with wet separator cleaning – which gives you an indication of how significant of an issue this is. Most suppliers provide a wet separator along with their equipment.

1.2 Glove Box

glove-box
Fig 3. Glove box used to interact with the build chamber in a safe manner, and in an inert atmosphere for reactive metals

A glove box is a useful piece of equipment for dealing with reactive metals in particular. The glove box allows an operator to manage all the powder handling in the build chamber to be done in a closed environment. For non-reactive metals this is not a necessary piece of equipment but it is highly recommended for reactive metals. The glove box when used in concert with reactive metals will allow for inert gas flushing out of oxygen to low PPM levels prior to operator intervention, and also includes grounding connections for the box to the machine. The nice thing about having a glove box is it reduces the amount of time you need to have a respirator on by allowing you to add powder and unpack builds in a closed environment. The glove box may also be integrated into the machine itself – ours is a stand alone device on wheels that we roll over to the machine when we need it.

1.3 Powder Sieve

Unless you plan on disposing all the powder in each build after it is completed, you need a sieve to separate out the larger particles and contaminants from the powder you wish to reuse in subsequent builds. The sieves are also typically provided with the machine and can be enabled with inerting capability (as shown in Fig 4 on the left, or as shown on the right, come as a small desktop unit that can sieve about 3-5 lbs of powder at a time). While the sieve on the left may be used for reactive metal sieving, it is uncertain if one can safely use the desktop sieve for the same, even with grounding the table it sits on and the operator – this is a gray area and I am keen to hear thoughts on this from those that have the expertise/experience in this space.

sieves
Fig 4. Mechanical sieving: (left) for large quantity sieving, (right) tabletop model for smaller quantities

1.4 Ultrasonic Cleaner

ultrasonic-cleaner
Fig 5. Ultrasonic cleaner used to help isolate metal powder trapped inside parts and supports

The purpose of the ultrasonic cleaner is to remove as much trapped powder as possible before the part and the build plate are subjected to any post-processing – this is to minimize the risk of trapped powder getting airborne during downstream processes – which cannot be completely eliminated (which is why PPE should be used all the way through till the final part is in hand after cleaning).

The Ultrasonic cleaner is used twice: first before the parts are removed from the build plate, and again after they are removed. Sometimes I will even use it a third time after all supports have been removed, if the part has internal p. I typically use the 40 kHz and 60 C temperature setting but have not sought to further optimize the parameters at this time.

2. Post-Processing Equipment

2.1 Furnace

Fig 6. Radiation heating furnace with inert gas capability. The Nabertherm 7/H has a maximum temperature of 1280 C, suitable for stress relief.

The purpose of the furnace is to relieve residual stresses built in the parts prior to removing them from the build plate. So this is the first step after the parts and the plate come out of the ultrasonic cleaner. We use a furnace that allows for nitrogen or argon flushing, and place our parts wrapped in stainless steel foil in a gas box. Instructions for heat treatment (time and temperature profile) are typically provided on the technical specifications that come with the material. Metals like stainless steel can be stress relieved in a nitrogen atmosphere but Inconels and Ti6Al4V for example require higher temperatures of between 800-1000 C and argon atmospheres – so you need to be setup for both gases if you are considering running more than 1 metal in your operation.

2.2 Support Removal

All parts are connected to the build plate by between 3-5mm of supports that need to be removed. This is a two step process: the first step involves removing the parts with supports off the build plate, and this is most commonly done with a table saw or a wire EDM. At PADT, we stumbled upon a third way to do this, using an oscillating hand tool and a carbide blade – which works well for small parts (<3″ in X-Y space). It is important to always wear gloves and a supplier recommended (N95 or higher) respirator while removing supports since there could be trapped powder in the supports that was not removed with the Ultrasonic cleaner. The second step is to use hand tools to pry out the supports from the part – this is why it is important to design supports that have weak mechanical connections to the part itself – ideally you can tear them off with hand tools like a perforated sheet of paper [Video below courtesy Bob Baker at PADT, Inc].

2.3 Die Grinder

Fig 7. Die grinder used for removing burrs at the support interfaces on the part

A carbide die grinder is then used to grind away the support-model interface – for tiny parts, this can be achieved with a hand file as well for some parts but is easier to do with a die grinder. For large parts, this need can be eliminated by designing in regions that are to be machined later and aligning these regions with supported regions, so as to reduce the need for finishing on these surfaces.

2.4 Face Milling

This may come as a bit of a surprise, but you also need some way of replenishing the build plates after use so you can re-use the plates – this involves using a face milling technique to remove all the remnant supports on the build plate and take off a thin slice at the top of the build plate, while retaining flatness to within 100 microns (0.004″). Having this capability in-house will greatly speed-up your ability to start successive prints and reduce the need to keep large inventories of build plates [Video below courtesy Bob Baker at PADT, Inc].

2.5 Surface Finishing

A combination of techniques can be used for surface finishing. At a minimum, you must have the ability to do glass bead blasting – this is both for the printed parts, but also for the build plate itself – a bead blasted finish is recommended to improve the adhesion of the first layer of powder to the build plate.

Fig 8. (left) Bead blaster and (right) post-processed build plates, ready for use again

2.6 Other Capabilities

The list above is what I would consider a minimum list of capabilities one needs to get started in metal 3D printing, but is not comprehensive and does not include facility, safety, environmental and housekeeping requirements which I will cover in future posts. Additional CNC equipment for machining metal AM parts, heat treatment and HIP, and superior surface finishing and cleaning techniques are often called upon for metal AM production, but these are highly dependent on application and part design, which is why I have left them out of the above list.

Move on to part 2 of this series where I discuss the facilities requirements for metal 3D printing (electrical, inert gas etc.). Did I miss anything or do you have a better way of doing the things described above? Please send your thoughts to info@padtinc.com, citing this blog post, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Acknowledgements:
Garrett Garner at Concept Laser, Inc and Bob Baker at PADT, Inc. for their insight and expertise that helped us select and bring in the above capabilities at PADT.

CLICK HERE for part 2

Introducing our new Newsletter: The PADT Pulse

We are very pleased to announce our new newsletter, the PADT Pulse.  For a while now customers have been asking for a monthly update on what is going on without having to go through our blog. So we are taking the best of what we did in a given month and sharing it in this newsletter.

Not only does it have a recap of important activities, it summarizes our most popular blog posts, shares some outside news of interest, and keeps you up to date on our upcoming events. We hope you enjoy it.

Here is a link to the online version.

And you can subscribe here.

ASU Polytechnique Deploys Robots in Project for 3D Printing Automation for Orbital ATK

Sometimes we run across some great exampls of industry and academia working together and like to share them as examples of win-win partnerships that can move technology forward and give studends a great oportunity.   A current Capstone Design Project by students at ASU Polytechnique is a great example.  It is also an early exmple of what can be done at the brand new Additive Manufacturing Center that was recently opened at the campus.

I’ll let ASU Mecanical Enginering Systems student Dean McBride tell you in his own words:

Orbital ATK in Chandler currently utilizes two Stratasys Dimension SST 1200es printers to prototype various parts with.  These printers print on parts trays, which must be removed and re-inserted into the printer to start new prints.  Wanting to increase process efficiency, Orbital had the desire of automating this 3D printing process during times when employees are not present to run the printers.  After the idea was born, Orbital presented this project to ASU Polytechnic as a potential senior capstone design project.  Shortly after, an ambitious team was assembled to take on the project.

 Numerous iterations of the engineering design process took place, and the team finally arrived at a final solution.  This solution is a Cartesian style robot, meaning the robot moves in linear motions, similar to the 1200es printer itself.  The mechanical frame and structure of the robot have been mostly assembled at this point.  Once assembly is achieved, the team will focus their efforts on the electrical system of the robot, as well as software coding of the micro-controller control system.  The team will be working to fine tune all aspects of the system until early May when the school semester ends.  The final goal of this project is to automate at least two complete print cycles without human interaction.

Here is a picture of the team with the robot they are building along side the Stratasys FDM printer they are automating.

 

Engineering.com: Metal Additive Manufacturing Keeps Legend Flying

What do you do when you want to replace the exhaust on a 1944 P-51D Mustang warbird and you also happen to be a pioneer in additive manufacturing?  You work with Concept Laser and PADT to can and print a replacement stainless steel part.  In “Metal Additive Manufacturing Keeps Legend Flying” Engineering.com details the project that involved blue light scanning and 3D Printing of new metal part in modern Stainless Steel, replacing the three-piece weldment with a single part.

They also did a fantastic video about the effort:

If you would like to learn how PADT can help you reverse engineering your legacy geometry and recreate it using Additive Manufacturing, contact us.

ANSYS 18 Mechanical Ease of Use Webinar – Coming Soon

We here at PADT are proud to present the ease of use and productivity enhancements that have been added to ANSYS Mechanical in release 18.

With this new release, ANSYS Mechanical focuses on the introduction of a variety of improvements that help save the users time, such as smarter data organization and new hotkeys, along with additions that can help you to better visualize specific intricacies in your models.

This webinar is coming up soon

Join PADT’s Simulation Support & Application Engineer Doug Oatis for an overview of the current user friendly interfaces within ANSYS Mechanical, along with the numerous additions in this new release that help to improve efficiency tenfold, such as:

Pretension Beam Connection

A beam connection is a power idealization to connect parts without modeling the bolts. Now the beam connection can be pretensioned as well.

Register today to find out how you can use this highly requested feature and many others to improve your throughput and stay ahead of the curve!

Making Thermal Contact Conductance a Parameter in ANSYS Mechanical 18.0 and Earlier with an APDL Command Object

A support request from one of our customers recently was for the ability to make Thermal Contact Conductance, which is sort of a reciprocal of thermal resistance at the contact interface, a parameter so it can be varied in a parametric study.  Unfortunately, this property of contact regions is not exposed as a parameter in the ANSYS Mechanical window like many other quantities are.

Fortunately, with ANSYS there is almost always a way……in this case we use the capability of an APDL (ANSYS Parametric Design Language) command object within ANSYS Mechanical.  This allows us to access additional functionality that isn’t exposed in the Mechanical menus.  This is a rare occurrence in the recent versions of ANSYS, but I thought this was a good example to explain how it is done including verifying that it works.

A key capability is that user-defined parameters within a command object have a ‘magic’ set of parameter names.  These names are ARG1, ARG2, ARG3, etc.  Eric Miller of PADT explained their use in a good PADT Focus blog posting back in 2013

In this application, we want to be able to vary the value of thermal contact conductance.  A low value means less heat will flow across the boundary between parts, while a high value means more heat will flow.  The default value is a calculated high value of conductance, meaning there is little to no resistance to heat flow across the contact boundary.

In order to make this work, we need to know how the thermal contact conductance is applied.  In fact, it is a property of the contact elements.  A quick look at the ANSYS Help for the CONTA174 or similar contact elements shows that the 14th field in the Real Constants is the defined value of TCC, the thermal contact conductance.  Real Constants are properties of elements that may need to be defined or may be optional values that can be defined.  Knowing that TCC is the 14th field in the real constant set, we can now build our APDL command object.

This is what the command object looks like, including some explanatory comments.  Everything after a “!” is a comment:

! Command object to parameterize thermal contact conductance
! by Ted Harris, PADT, Inc., 3/31/2017
! Note: This is just an example. It is up to the user to create and verify
! the concept for their own application.

! From the ANSYS help, we can see that real constant TCC is the 14th real constant for
! the 17X contact elements. Therefore, we can define an APDL parameter with the desired
! TCC value and then assign that parameter to the 14th real constant value.
!
! We use ARG1 in the Details view for this command snippet to define and enable the
! parameter to be used for TCC.

r,cid ! tells ANSYS we are defining real constants for this contact pair
! any values left blank will not be overwritten from defaults or those
! assigned by Mechanical. R command is used for values 1-6 of the real constants
rmore,,,,,, ! values 7-12 for this real constant set
rmore,,arg1 ! This assigned value of arg1 to 14th field of real constant

! Now repeat for target side to cover symmetric contact case
r,tid ! tells ANSYS we are defining real constants for this contact pair
! any values left blank will not be overwritten from defaults or those
! assigned by Mechanical. R command is used for values 1-6 of the real constants
rmore,,,,,, ! values 7-12 for this real constant set
rmore,,arg1 ! This assigned value of arg1 to 14th field of real constant

You may have noticed the ‘cid’ and ‘tid’ labels in the command object.  These identify the integer ‘pointers’ for the contact and target element types, respectively.  They also identify the contact and target real constant set number and material property number.  So how do we know what values of integers are used by ‘cid’ and ‘tid’ for a given contact region?  That’s part of the beauty of the command object: you don’t know the values of the cid and tid variables, but you alsp don’t need to know them.  ANSYS automatically plugs in the correct integer values for each contact pair simply by us putting the magic ‘cid’ and ‘tid’ labels in the command snippet.  The top of a command object within the contact branch will automatically contain these comments at the top, which explain it:

!   Commands inserted into this file will be executed just after the contact region definition.
!   The type number for the contact type is equal to the parameter “cid”.
!   The type number for the target type is equal to the parameter “tid”.
!   The real and mat number for the asymmetric contact pair is equal to the parameter “cid”.
!   The real and mat number for the symmetric contact pair(if it exists)
! is equal to the parameter “tid”.

Next, we need to know how to implement this in ANSYS Mechanical.  We start with a model of a ball valve assembly, using some simple geometry from one of our training classes.  The idea is that hot water passes through the valve represented by a constant temperature of 125 F.  There is a heat sink represented at the OD of the ends of the valve at a constant 74 degrees.  There is also some convection on most of the outer surfaces carrying some heat away.

The ball valve and the valve housing are separate parts and contact is used to allow heat to flow from the hotter ball valve into the cooler valve assembly:

Here is the command snippet associated with that contact region.  The ‘magic’ is the ARG1 parameter which is given an initial value in the Details view, BEFORE the P box is checked to make it a parameter.  Wherever we need to define the value of TCC in the command object, we use the ARG1 parameter name, as shown here:

Next, we verify that it actually works as expected.  Here I have setup a table of design points, with increasing values of TCC (ARG1).  The output parameter that is tracked is the minimum temperature on the inner surface of the valve housing, where it makes contact with the ball.  If conductance is low, little heat should flow so the housing remains cool.  If the conductance is high, more heat should flow into the housing making it hotter.  After solving all the design points in the Workbench window, we see that indeed that’s what happens:

And here is a log scale plot showing temperature rise with increasing TCC:

So, excluding the comments our command object is 6 lines long.  With those six lines of text as well as knowledge of how to use the ARG1 parameter, we now have thermal contact conductance which varies as a parameter.  This is a simple case and you will certainly want to test and verify for your own use.  Hopefully this helps with explaining the process and how it is done, including verification.

 

 

 

Phoenix Business Journal: How universities can be a needed catalyst and safe place for cooperation


How do competitors work together in a mutually beneficial way?  In “How universities can be a needed catalyst and safe place for cooperation” I take a look at the important role Universities can play in enabling this type of cooperation.  Based on our own experience in such partnerships, I talk about what Universities can do to take a leadership role in this area.

Phoenix Business Journal: The future of artificial intelligence – The machines are taking over

Artificial Intelligence is one of those technologies that you hear about a lot, but may not notice. In “The future of artificial intelligence: The machines are taking over” I look at what AI is an how it is impacting businesses today and what to look for in the near future for this important technolgy.

PADT Welcomes John Williams to Business Development Role

Please join Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies in welcoming our new engineering services business development manager, John Williams. John will be an integral part of our growth in helping customers turn their innovations into real products through our advanced engineering capabilities, flexible project management skills and careful vendor selection process.

“With John joining our team, we’ll be able to take our engineering services business to the next level and expand on our offerings,” said Eric Miller, co-founder and principal at PADT. “His sales and business development experience at the national and international level makes him ideal to handle our diverse client portfolio and position us as a major player in this category.”

To help PADT improve its market position in engineering services and product development, Williams will help define long-term organizational goals, build customer relationships, identify new business opportunities, and maintain extensive knowledge of market conditions.

“PADT is a diverse and innovative company that presents a number of exciting opportunities,” said Williams. “I look forward to using my experience and reach to raise awareness of the great engineering expertise the company can provide. Once companies realize how PADT can help them solve tough problems and implement their designs, the word will spread that PADT really does make innovation work.”

Williams brings more than 16 years of sales experience to the position. He joins PADT from Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. in South Asia where he was the director of business development. Prior to working at Bell Helicopter, John was Regional Sales Director for Textron Aviation for South Asia.  Prior to this, he was President of Williams Consulting Group (WCG) in Phoenix, AZ.

Before starting WCG, Williams spent 12 years with The Boeing Company where he was last responsible for implementing Boeing’s offset programs in India. He also played a key role in successfully winning several large orders for Boeing. Prior to this assignment, Williams was in International Contracts at Boeing Defense Systems where he successfully negotiated and closed several major Commercial and US FMS contracts with foreign governments.

Williams holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Northwestern College. He has numerous professional certifications including a Master’s Certificate in Global Leadership from Thunderbird, the American Graduate School of International Management; as well as certifications in various U.S. Federal Acquisition Programs.

Introducing: The PADT Startup Spotlight

In support of the ANSYS Startup Program, PADT is proud to introduce the PADT Startup Spotlight.

We here at PADT are firm believers in the opinion that today’s startup companies are tomorrow’s industry leaders and thus should be give every possible opportunity to thrive and succeed.

As a result we are offering full access to our promotional capabilities in order to help startup companies developing physical prototypes to grow and develop in a competitive environment.

We will look through those startups that have purchased the ANSYS Startup Package through PADT, and select one to feature and promote, that we believe clearly represents the drive and entrepreneurial spirit that is key in order to succeed in today’s day and age.

Presenting the first Startup Spotlight:

Since their inception in 2014, Velox Motorsports has always been focused on speed; whether that be the speed of the NASCAR teams they have worked with or the desire their customers have for speed, which drives their competitiveness and fuels the demand for their products.

They even show a passion for speed in the company’s name (Velox), which translates from Latin to “swift or speed”.

Visit www.padtinc.com/startupspotlight for more information on Velox Motorsports and The PADT Startup Spotlight.

Active Solution Monitoring during a solve in ANSYS CFX

One of the cool new features in CFX 18 is the ability to actively review results while the calculation is running. It is supported for steady state and transient calculations, and now includes support for rotating reference frames as well.

What follows are some tutorial-esque steps to get you started.

crm_10275-active-solution-monitoring-CFDPostR18

On the Functions of Cellular Structures in Nature

WHY did nature evolve cellular structures?

In a previous post, I laid out a structural classification of cellular structures in nature, proposing that they fall into 6 categories. I argued that it is not always apparent to a designer what the best unit cell choice for a given application is. While most mechanical engineers have a feel for what structure to use for high stiffness or energy absorption, we cannot easily address multi-objective problems or apply these to complex geometries with spatially varying requirements (and therefore locally optimum cellular designs). However, nature is full of examples where cellular structures possess multi-objective functionality: bone is one such well-known example. To be able to assign structure to a specific function requires us to connect the two, and to do that, we must identify all the functions in play. In this post, I attempt to do just that and develop a classification of the functions of cellular structures.

Any discussion of structure in nature has to contend with a range of drivers and constraints that are typically not part of an engineer’s concern. In my discussions with biologists (including my biochemist wife), I quickly run into justified skepticism about whether generalized models associating structure and function can address the diversity and nuance in nature – and I (tend to) agree. However, my attempt here is not to be biologically accurate – it is merely to construct something that is useful and relevant enough for an engineer to use in design. But we must begin with a few caveats to ensure our assessments consider the correct biological context.

1. Uniquely Biological Considerations

Before I attempt to propose a structure-function model, there are some legitimate concerns many have made in the literature that I wish to recap in the context of cellular structures. Three of these in particular are relevant to this discussion and I list them below.

1.1 Design for Growth

Engineers are familiar with “design for manufacturing” where design considers not just the final product but also aspects of its manufacturing, which often place constraints on said design. Nature’s “manufacturing” method involves (at the global level of structure), highly complex growth – these natural growth mechanisms have no parallel in most manufacturing processes. Take for example the flower stalk in Fig 1, which is from a Yucca tree that I found in a parking lot in Arizona.

Figure 1. The flower stalk (before bloom) of a Yucca plant in Arizona with overlapping surface cellular structure (Author’s image)

At first glance, this looks like a good example of overlapping surfaces, one of the 6 categories of cellular structures I covered before. But when you pause for a moment and query the function of this packing of cells (WHY this shape, size, packing?), you realize there is a powerful growth motive for this design. A few weeks later when I returned to the parking lot, I found many of the Yucca stems simultaneously in various stages of bloom – and captured them in a collage shown in Fig 2. This is a staggering level of structural complexity, including integration with the environment (sunlight, temperature, pollinators) that is both wondrous and for an engineer, very humbling.

Figure 2. From flower stalk to seed pods, with some help from pollinators. Form in nature is often driven by demands of growth. (Author’s images)

The lesson here is to recognize growth as a strong driver in every natural structure – the tricky part is determining when the design is constrained by growth as the primary force and when can growth be treated as incidental to achieving an optimum functional objective.

1.2 Multi-functionality

Even setting aside the growth driver mentioned previously, structure in nature is often serving multiple functions at once – and this is true of cellular structures as well. Consider the tessellation of “scutes” on the alligator. If you were tasked with designing armor for a structure, you may be tempted to mimic the alligator skin as shown in Fig. 3.

Figure 3. The cellular scutes on the alligator serve more than just one function: thermal regulation, bio-protection, mobility, fluid loss mitigation are some of the multiple underlying objectives that have been proposed (CCO public domain, Attr. Republica)

As you begin to study the skin, you see it is comprised of multiple scutes that have varying shape, size and cross-sections – see Fig 4 for a close-up.

Figure 4. Close-up of alligator scutes (Attr: Hans Hillewaert, Flickr, Creative Commons)

The pattern varies spatially, but you notice some trends: there exists a pattern on the top but it is different from the sides and the bottom (not pictured here). The only way to make sense of this variation is to ask what functions do these scutes serve? Luckily for us, biologists have given this a great deal of thought and it turns out there are several: bio-protection, thermoregulation, fluid loss mitigation and unrestricted mobility are some of the functions discussed in the literature [1, 2]. So whereas you were initially concerned only with protection (armor), the alligator seeks to accomplish much more – this means the designer either needs to de-confound the various functional aspects spatially and/or expand the search to other examples of natural armor to develop a common principle that emerges independent of multi-functionality specific to each species.

1.3 Sub-Optimal Design

This is an aspect for which I have not found an example in the field of cellular structures (yet), so I will borrow a well-known (and somewhat controversial) example [3] to make this point, and that has to do with the giraffe’s Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve (RLN), which connects the Vagus Nerve to the larynx as shown in Figure 5, which it is argued, takes an unnecessarily long circuitous route to connect these two points.

Figure 5. Observe how the RLN in the giraffe emerges from the Vagus Nerve far away from the thorax: a sub-optimal design that was likely carried along through the generations in aid of prioritizing neck growth (Attr: Vladimir V. Medeyko)

We know that from a design standpoint, this is sub-optimal because we have an axiom that states the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And therefore, the long detour the RLN makes in the giraffe’s neck must have some other evolutionary and/or developmental basis (fish do not have this detour) [3]. However, in the case of other entities such as the cellular structures we are focusing on, the complexity of the underlying design principles makes it hard to identify cases where nature has found a sub-optimal design space for the function of interest to us, in favor of other pressing needs determined by selection. What is sufficient for the present moment is to appreciate that such cases may exist and to bear them in mind when studying structure in nature.

2. Classifying Functions

Given the above challenges, the engineer may well ask: why even consider natural form in making determinations involving the design of engineering structures? The biomimic responds by reminding us that nature has had 3.8 billion years to develop a “design guide” and we would be wise to learn from it. Importantly, natural and engineering structures both exist in the same environment and are subject to identical physics and further, are both often tasked with performing similar functions. In the context of cellular structures, we may thus ask: what are the functions of interest to engineers and designers that nature has addressed through cellular design? Through my reading [1-4], I have compiled the classification of functions in Figure 6, though this is likely to grow over time.

Figure 6. A proposed classification of functions of cellular structures in nature (subject to constant change!)

This broad classification into structural and transport may seem a little contrived, but it emerges from an analyst’s view of the world. There are two reasons why I propose this separation:

  1. Structural functions involve the spatial allocation of materials in the construction of the cellular structures, while transport functions involve the structure AND some other entity and their interactions (fluid or light for example) – thus additional physics needs to be comprehended for transport functions
  2. Secondly, structural performance needs to be comprehended independent of any transport function: a cellular structure must retain its integrity over the intended lifetime in addition to performing any additional function

Each of these functions is a fascinating case study in its own right and I highly recommend the site AskNature.org [1] as a way to learn more on a specific application, but this is beyond the scope of the current post. More relevant to our high-level discussion is that having listed the various reasons WHY cellular structures are found in nature, the next question is can we connect the structures described in the previous post to the functions tabulated above? This will be the attempt of my next post. Until then, as always, I welcome all inputs and comments, which you can send by messaging me on LinkedIn.

Thank you for reading!

References

  1. AskNature.org
  2. Foy (1983), The grand design: Form and colour in animals, Prentice-Hall, 1st edition
  3. Dawkins (2010), The greatest show on earth: the evidence for evolution, Free Press, Reprint of 1st edition
  4. Gibson, Ashby, Harley (2010), Cellular Materials in Nature and Medicine, Cambridge University Press; 1st edition
  5. Ashby, Evans, Fleck, Gibson, Hutchinson, Wadley (2000), Metal Foams: A Design Guide, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1st edition

ANSYS 18 – Mechanical Ease of Use Webinar

We here at PADT are proud to present the ease of use and productivity enhancements that have been added to ANSYS Mechanical in release 18.

With this new release, ANSYS Mechanical focuses on the introduction of a variety of improvements that help save the users time, such as smarter data organization and new hotkeys, along with additions that can help you to better visualize specific intricacies in your models.

Join PADT’s Simulation Support & Application Engineer Doug Oatis for an overview of the current user friendly interfaces within ANSYS Mechanical, along with the numerous additions in this new release that help to improve efficiency tenfold, such as:

  • Hotkey Additions
  • Box Geometry Creation Within Mechanical
  • Free Standing Remote Points
  • Improved Status Bar Information
  • Pretension Beam Connection
  • Solver Scratch Directory Specification
  • Improved Probe Annotations

Register today to find out how you can use these enhancements to improve your throughput and stay ahead of the curve!

We look forward to seeing you there.

Making Solids Water Tight in ANSYS Spaceclaim for ANSYS Workbench Meshing

Occasionally when solid geometry is imported from CAD into ANSYS SpaceClaim the geometry will come in as solids, but when a mesh is generated on the solids the mesh will appear to “leak” into the surrounding space. Below is an assembly that was imported from CAD into SpaceClaim. In the SpaceClaim Structure Window all of the parts can be seen to be solid components.

When the mesh is generated in ANSYS Mechanical it appears like the assembly has been successfully meshed.

However, when you look at the mesh a little closer, the mesh can be missing from some of the surfaces and not displayed correctly on others.

Additionally, if you create a cross-section through the mesh, the mesh on some of the parts will “leak” outside of the part boundaries and will look like the image below.

Based on the mesh color, the mesh of the part in the center of the assembly has grown outside of the surfaces of the part.
To repair the part you need to go back to SpaceClaim and rebuild it. First you need to hide the rest of the parts.

Next, create a sketch plane that passes through the problem part.

In the sketch mode create a rectangle that surrounds the part. When you return to 3D mode in SpaceClaim, that rectangle will become a surface that passes through the part.

Now use the Pull tool in SpaceClaim to turn that surface into a part that completely surrounds the part to be repaired, making sure to turn on the “No Merge” option for the pull before you begin.

After you have pulled the surface into a solid, it should like the image below where the original part is completely buried inside the new part.

Now you will use the Combine tool to divide the box with the original part. Select Combine from the Tool Bar, then select the box that you created in the previous step. The cutter will be activated and you will move the cursor around until the original part is highlighted inside the box. Select it with the left mouse button. The Combine tool will then give you the option to select the part of the box that you want to remove. Select the part that surrounds the original part. After it is finished, close the combine tool and the Structure Tree and 3D window will now look like the following:

Now move the new solid that was created with the Combine tool into the location of the original part and turn off the original one and re-activate the other parts of the assembly. The assembly and Structure Tree should now look like the pictures below.

Now save the project, re-open the meshing tool, and re-generate the mesh. The mesh should now be correct and not “leaking” beyond the part boundaries.

Cellular Design Strategies in Nature: A Classification

What types of cellular designs do we find in nature?

Cellular structures are an important area of research in Additive Manufacturing (AM), including work we are doing here at PADT. As I described in a previous blog post, the research landscape can be broadly classified into four categories: application, design, modeling and manufacturing. In the context of design, most of the work today is primarily driven by software that represent complex cellular structures efficiently as well as analysis tools that enable optimization of these structures in response to environmental conditions and some desired objective. In most of these software, the designer is given a choice of selecting a specific unit cell to construct the entity being designed. However, it is not always apparent what the best unit cell choice is, and this is where I think a biomimetic approach can add much value. As with most biomimetic approaches, the first step is to frame a question and observe nature as a student. And the first question I asked is the one described at the start of this post: what types of cellular designs do we find in the natural world around us? In this post, I summarize my findings.

Design Strategies

In a previous post, I classified cellular structures into 4 categories. However, this only addressed “volumetric” structures where the objective of the cellular structure is to fill three-dimensional space. Since then, I have decided to frame things a bit differently based on my studies of cellular structures in nature and the mechanics around these structures. First is the need to allow for the discretization of surfaces as well: nature does this often (animal armor or the wings of a dragonfly, for example). Secondly, a simple but important distinction from a modeling standpoint is whether the cellular structure in question uses beam- or shell-type elements in its construction (or a combination of the two). This has led me to expand my 4 categories into 6, which I now present in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Classification of cellular structures in nature: Volumetric – Beam: Honeycomb in bee construction (Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak & Beemaster Hubert Seibring), Lattice structure in the Venus flower basket sea sponge (Neon); Volumetric – Shell: Foam structure in douglas fir wood (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration), Periodic Surface similar to what is seen in sea urchin skeletal plates (Anders Sandberg); Surface: Tessellation on glypotodon shell (Author’s image), Scales on a pangolin (Red Rocket Photography for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis)

Setting aside the “why” of these structures for a future post, here I wish to only present these 6 strategies from a structural design standpoint.

  1. Volumetric – Beam: These are cellular structures that fill space predominantly with beam-like elements. Two sub-categories may be further defined:
    • Honeycomb: Honeycombs are prismatic, 2-dimensional cellular designs extruded in the 3rd dimension, like the well-known hexagonal honeycomb shown in Fig 1. All cross-sections through the 3rd dimension are thus identical. Though the hexagonal honeycomb is most well known, the term applies to all designs that have this prismatic property, including square and triangular honeycombs.
    • Lattice and Open Cell Foam: Freeing up the prismatic requirement on the honeycomb brings us to a fully 3-dimensional lattice or open-cell foam. Lattice designs tend to embody higher stiffness levels while open cell foams enable energy absorption, which is why these may be further separated, as I have argued before. Nature tends to employ both strategies at different levels. One example of a predominantly lattice based strategy is the Venus flower basket sea sponge shown in Fig 1, trabecular bone is another example.
  2. Volumetric – Shell:
    • Closed Cell Foam: Closed cell foams are open-cell foams with enclosed cells. This typically involves a membrane like structure that may be of varying thickness from the strut-like structures. Plant sections often reveal a closed cell foam, such as the douglas fir wood structure shown in Fig 1.
    • Periodic Surface: Periodic surfaces are fascinating mathematical structures that often have multiple orders of symmetry similar to crystalline groups (but on a macro-scale) that make them strong candidates for design of stiff engineering structures and for packing high surface areas in a given volume while promoting flow or exchange. In nature, these are less commonly observed, but seen for example in sea urchin skeletal plates.
  3. Surface:
    • Tessellation: Tessellation describes covering a surface with non-overlapping cells (as we do with tiles on a floor). Examples of tessellation in nature include the armored shells of several animals including the extinct glyptodon shown in Fig 1 and the pineapple and turtle shell shown in Fig 2 below.
    • Overlapping Surface: Overlapping surfaces are a variation on tessellation where the cells are allowed to overlap (as we do with tiles on a roof). The most obvious example of this in nature is scales – including those of the pangolin shown in Fig 1.
Figure 2. Tessellation design strategies on a pineapple and the map Turtle shell [Scans conducted at PADT by Ademola Falade]

What about Function then?

This separation into 6 categories is driven from a designer’s and an analyst’s perspective – designers tend to think in volumes and surfaces and the analyst investigates how these are modeled (beam- and shell-elements are at the first level of classification used here). However, this is not sufficient since it ignores the function of the cellular design, which both designer and analyst need to also consider. In the case of tessellation on the skin of an alligator for example as shown in Fig 3, was it selected for protection, easy of motion or for controlling temperature and fluid loss?

Figure 3. Varied tessellation on an alligator conceals a range of possible functions (CCO public domain)

In a future post, I will attempt to develop an approach to classifying cellular structures that derives not from its structure or mechanics as I have here, but from its function, with the ultimate goal of attempting to reconcile the two approaches. This is not a trivial undertaking since it involves de-confounding multiple functional requirements, accounting for growth (nature’s “design for manufacturing”) and unwrapping what is often termed as “evolutionary baggage,” where the optimum solution may have been sidestepped by natural selection in favor of other, more pressing needs. Despite these challenges, I believe some first-order themes can be discerned that can in turn be of use to the designer in selecting a particular design strategy for a specific application.

References

This is by no means the first attempt at a classification of cellular structures in nature and while the specific 6 part separation proposed in this post was developed by me, it combines ideas from a lot of previous work, and three of the best that I strongly recommend as further reading on this subject are listed below.

  1. Gibson, Ashby, Harley (2010), Cellular Materials in Nature and Medicine, Cambridge University Press; 1st edition
  2. Naleway, Porter, McKittrick, Meyers (2015), Structural Design Elements in Biological Materials: Application to Bioinspiration. Advanced Materials, 27(37), 5455-5476
  3. Pearce (1980), Structure in Nature is a Strategy for Design, The MIT Press; Reprint edition

As always, I welcome all inputs and comments – if you have an example that does not fit into any of the 6 categories mentioned above, please let me know by messaging me on LinkedIn and I shall include it in the discussion with due credit. Thanks!